What You Need to Know About Cross-Training

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Effective cross-training can make you a healthier and better balanced runner.

cross-trainingEverybody knows training for a marathon requires lots of running.  But, other exercises need to be incorporated into your training regimen to ensure that you cross the finish line strong and healthy. 

When I trained for my first marathon I ran at least 5 days per week and did little cross training.  Throughout my training program I struggled with shin splints and knee pain.  It was frustrating to deal with these injuries. 

While training for my second marathon I was taking a power yoga class twice a week.  I also incorporated weight training and some cycling. 

My marathon training program only required 3 days of running per week and emphasized cross-training.  Here is a sample week from my training: 

My Sample Week


  • Sunday – rest day
  • Monday – run 5 easy miles + stretching and core workout
  • Tuesday – power yoga 1 hour
  • Wednesday – run 6 mile intervals + stretching and lower body weight training
  • Thursday – power yoga for 1 hour
  • Friday – 1 hour of cycling + upper body weight training
  • Saturday – 12 mile long run + stretching

I was able to finish this second marathon without injury and discomfort and felt like I was stronger and in better shape overall.  Now I highly recommend a schedule of stretching and cross training to anyone training for a marathon.  


Benefits of Cross-Training


  • Balancing muscle groups
  • Increasing cardiovascular fitness
  • Improving strength and power
  • Decreasing your chances of injury
  • Giving injuries time to heal
  • Busting boredom


Cross-Training Activities


  • Swimming – good for the upper body and general conditioning
  • Water jogging – perfect for avoiding hot weather and for the injured runner
  • Rowing– best for upper body and abdominals
  • Weight training (uses a weight for resistance) – great for building strength
  • Strength training (uses body weight for resistance) – balances muscle groups
  • Yoga – involves strength training and builds flexibility, balance, and stretching
  • Cross country skiing – total body workout that is cardiovascular and non-impact
  • Cycling/Spinning – focuses on lower body and increases cardiovascular fitness
  • Elliptical trainer – mimics the running motion in a non-impact way
  • Walking – uses running muscles with lower impact
  • Group sports– great for decreasing boredom and getting a cardio workout


Rules for Effective Cross-Training


  1. Cross-training should not be a substitute for a scheduled run unless you are injured
  2. Don’t let your cross-training wear you out and decrease the quality of your running 
  3. Have a plan.  Don’t go to the gym and just meander around
  4. Add cross-training gradually if you are not accustomed to the activity
  5. Use appropriate cross-training activities that will benefit your running (not golf or bowling).  It should have a similar duration and intensity to your running
  6. Don’t put more stress on injured areas
  7. Know when to stop
  8. Enjoy the benefits

If you are training for a race it is important to refrain from high-impact, jarring sports such as tennis, racquetball, basketball, soccer, volleyball, skiing, and aerobic dance as these may increase your risk of injury.  Injured runners should use cross training as allowed by their doctor.

I highly recommend effective cross-training, focusing on stretching after every run, core training at least two times per week, and weight training two times per week.  It can greatly improve your running performance.


Take Action


  • Begin cross-training regularly every week
  • Leave a comment.  Tell us what type of cross-training exercise you love

23 Responses to What You Need to Know About Cross-Training

  1. Rob February 28, 2011 at 5:56 am #

    A very popular marathon training plan I’ve been considering using has the long run on Saturday, cross training on Sunday, and rest on Monday.

    Do you see any issues with switching the order of Sunday and Monday? Is there a benefit to cross training the day after the long run as opposed to rest, or will switching not make a big difference in the long run (pun)?

    • Angie February 28, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

      Hi Rob. The training plans that put a day of cross training after the long run do it to decrease any soreness associated with the long run. If you choose to XT after the LR make sure it is of light intensity and low impact. The key is to find what works best for your body.

  2. Michael April 27, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    I cross train using an elliptical machine. I have a very nice one and I enjoy it for the most part. I switch directions on the foot peddles every 5 minutes and increase resistance. I find this has great benefits for my quads and is also less boring. This workout on my quads has really helped me with hills in my long run. On especially cold, snowy winter days I will use my elliptical to replace a shorter run but I increase the duration by half. I have had good results from an elliptical.

    • Angie April 27, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

      Hey Michael. Sounds like you get a good workout in on that elliptical. Keep up the great work!

  3. David Cusano September 4, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    My wife and I have been using the Beginner Half-Marathon training plan and it has been working great! Our first race is roughly 6 weeks away and we are making great progress!

    One quick suggestion for what you list above. I am a high-school rowing coach and have been involved in the sport for almost 20 years. While the rowing does utilize the upper body and core, the greatest benefit is actually in the lower body, specifically the quads. The breakdown between lower-body/core/upper-body usage is typically 65%/25%/10%.

    Thanks for a great site and great podcast!

    • Angie September 6, 2011 at 11:00 am #

      Hi David. It’s great to hear that you and your wife are getting so close to your first half marathon. Thank you for clarifying the cross training benefits of rowing. It’s definitely an effective total body workout.

  4. Paul January 20, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

    I have a general query in relation ton to Cross training, Is circuit training similar?

    • Angie January 21, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

      Hi Paul. Circuit training is one form of cross training. Other great cross training activities to consider include cycling, yoga, swimming, rowing, and free weights.

  5. Tiffany February 4, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    Does anyone one know where to get a balanced weight/ resistance training exercise programs? I am rather new to all this and I don’t even know where to begin!

    My friend and I decided to do the Missoula half marathon this year and it’s in like 5-6 months away. We are both in the process of building up our running bases 🙂 I’m pretty excited about it!

    Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

    Ps I love your podcasts!

    • Angie February 8, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

      Hi Tiffany. I’m glad that you’re enjoying the podcast. It’s exciting to hear about your half marathon plans this summer. I’d definitely like to run the Missoula Marathon one of these years too.

      You could look on Youtube for weight training for runners and probably would find a variety of programs. In general you want to look for something that uses lower weights with more repetitions. You can also look on the Fitness Magazine website where they have a variety of strength training routines.

      Best of luck with your training!

  6. Corinne February 28, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

    I’m in love with your podcast! As a trainer and someone who has lost over 100lbs, I’ve really appreciated all the great info you put into it.

    This article spoke to me because I love CROSS training…especially lifting weights. My biggest issue is wanting to include everything but I’m learning to prioritize my running, make it tougher rather than just years of chucking in miles, and structuring my cross training for fun and DEVELOPMENT.

    Anyway, I am enjoying the podcasts and reading your blogs. I write my own and sited you in recently! Thanks for all you do!



    • Angie February 28, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

      Hi Corinne. I’m glad that you’ve been enjoying the podcast. Thanks for giving us a shout out on your blog.

      Congratulations on working so hard and shedding 100 pounds. You are amazing. All the best as you train for the Chicago Marathon and all your other fitness goals!

  7. Marian Pruet June 7, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

    I am training g for my first full marathon in January. I am quite nervous and excited at the same time. I currently am running 4 1/2 miles on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and am swimming on Tuesday and doing the spin class on Thursdays. Should I increase my 4 1/2 miles or continue that and should I run 5 1/2, 6 1/2, 7 1/2 and so on conseculatively every Saturday for my long run? How long should my longest run be before actually running the marathon? Please give any input or advice!

    • Angie June 10, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

      Hi Marian. It’s exciting to hear that you’re training for your first full marathon and incorporating cross training into your routine. Because I’m not your running coach I can’t give you specific advice related to your training. However, you may want to check out joining the Academy. With the basic level you get access to all my training lessons, a free training plan and access to a private Facebook page. The Personal Coaching option gives you all of the above plus a customized training plan based on your fitness level and goals as well as unlimited email coaching. Check out this link for more info and good luck! http://marathontrainingacademy.com/member/access-1/

  8. Sonny August 14, 2015 at 8:38 pm #

    I just started incorporating cross training into my training because of an injury and so far I’m really enjoying cycling, I plan to do it more often even after I’m well enough to go back to my training.

    • Angie Spencer August 15, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

      Hi Sonny. Thanks for sharing your experience with beginning to cross train. It took an injury for me to get serious about it too. But often the benefit is gaining more knowledge about what your body needs and learning to love a new sport. Best of luck as you pursue your running goals!

  9. Kathleen September 14, 2015 at 12:32 pm #

    Hi Angie! I’m 22 years old and a new member of your listening community as I train for the St. Jude’s full. I LOVE your podcasts and they have gotten me through some lonely treadmill long runs! (this isn’t the safest area to train unfortunately, I moved here out of college from NY for my job and am here for a year). Thank you so very much for everything that you do, I think you will see me commenting more and more! This will be my first full marathon, and I’m wondering what role cross training would play in the day after a long run. I really like to get my cardio in everyday-I’m trying to decide if Sunday should be a day to up my weekly miles (9 mile easy run after a long run for example) or if I should take a spin class each week! Thanks so very much and I look forward to commenting and listening more!!!

    • Angie Spencer September 15, 2015 at 8:19 am #

      Hi Kathleen. Thanks for listening to the podcast and for your comment. It’s exciting that you’re taking your running to the next level as you train for your first full marathon. One of the things that you want to guard against as you train for your first marathon is overtraining. There’s the temptation to think that doing more will equate better results. But this can unfortunately be a recipe for overtraining and injury. I recommend that newer marathoners use the day after a long run as an easy or rest day. If you do choose to do some type of cross training on this day make sure it’s low impact and gives your cardiovascular system a chance to rest. Good activities to choose would include cycling, swimming, yoga, Pilates, stretching. All the best with your training!

  10. EMILY ANDERSON July 21, 2017 at 2:17 pm #

    i am a runner/mountain runner and have always done mountain biking as my cross training. this year i decided to try a sprint triathlon. i have never liked swimming very much, but followed advice from most web pages for tri training-i got a coach to perfect my front crawl, to make my swimming more efficient. i am now ADDICTED to swimming. im doing it more than running!

    i have just set a half-marathon goal for january and i have been roped into a REALLY tough mountain race in may 2018. very much looking forward to it!

    • Angie Spencer July 23, 2017 at 11:31 am #

      It’s awesome to hear how you went out of your comfort zone and became a better swimmer this year. Adding in challenge and variety is a great way to keep it fun and make you a stronger person. Good luck with your upcoming half marathon and mountain race!!

  11. Michael Jones February 19, 2020 at 10:39 am #

    Thank you for the interesting review. About a year ago I had an injury and had to change my training. I decided to try the Rowing Machine and until now I am using this equipment. In this post I have found some more ideas to make my training more varied.

    • Angie Spencer February 21, 2020 at 2:02 pm #

      Hey Michael, So sorry that you had to go through that period of injury. But it’s great to hear that you started rowing during that time. It’s such a great low impact full body workout. Injury can often present a chance to come back even stronger both mentally and physically.


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